Lifestyle choices can be like matters of the heart – it often takes a few tries to get it right. At YLC, we aim to give our readers insight into healthy lifestyle options available in the city – be they related to food, leisure or exercise. In a bid to get Healthy in the City this June – we tried out Crossfit training.
“You’re half-way there, only 25 burpees left – you can do it,” shouts Karl encouragingly.
Karl is my Personal Trainer. And he’s the reason that I’m jumping up and down in a gym on Södermalm in Stockholm. I grit my teeth and try to do as he says. How on earth did I get myself into this?
Let’s start by admitting that I am rather a lazy, comfort-loving person. Many who know me would scoff reading this, saying that I am exaggerating, as I am always busy doing something – and they are right. But truth be told, it takes a lot of self-discipline. Left to my own devices, without my inner drill-sergeant, I would sink back into the sofa or curl up under the duvet, reading novels and eating chocolate all day. I kid you not – I’ve seen it happen.
‘Without my inner drill-sergeant, I would sink back into the sofa, alternatively curl up under the duvet, reading novels and eating chocolate all day.’
Also, as what I do for a living largely consists of tapping away at my laptop, I spend a lot of time sitting down. I was starting to realize that it was time to get fit. You know in that way that people seem to be who do serious exercise – things like running. At 36, I feel I’m getting to a ‘use it or lose it’ situation. And I don’t like to lose anything unless it is lingering post-pregnancy weight.
Today my exercise largely consists of yoga. Seeing as my yoga of choice is Bikram – which is done in 40-degree heat – I am pretty resilient. But now I wanted something kick-ass. As an ex-dancer, I had always previously turned to Aerobics. However, last time was when I was in my 20s and I feared that Aerobics (is it even called that any more?) had moved on from then. And after having two kids, so had my pelvic floor.
I was also getting tired of shouting at myself – and had started to not pay attention to my inner drill-sergeant.
“Get up off that chair and go for a run,” I would tell myself. Upon which, I would turn the page in my latest glossy and pour another ice-tea. Well, you get the idea.
So change was needed – and it came in the opportunity to try Crossfit, a form of exercise using constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements, a form of training that has become increasingly popular over the last few years.
Let’s just say that Karl is a lot better at this than me. For now.
I made an appointment to see Personal Trainer Karl Gullö, from Crossfit Södermalm, on Tjärhovsgatan, close to Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm. After booking the appointment I felt enormously pleased with myself. For about 10 minutes. Then I was terrified. What had I been thinking? Crossfit is for people who are serious about their training, I thought. Would I even survive? Karl the PT seemed to think I would. I decided to take his word for it.
Shortly before arriving at Crossfit Södermalm, as I was ambling down the street trying not to look scared, the heavens opened and I was utterly soaked.
“This better not be a sign,” I muttered and skulked surreptitiously down the corridor. Sort of dragging my feet. Just a little.
But there was no need to worry; because although the workout was hard, Karl made sure that it wasn’t overwhelming. He told me he would start me off on a workout called Cindy. This conjured up images of blonde American women with big hair and a Southern accent – which felt harmless enough – and off we went. Before I knew it, I was doing pull-ups and sqauts and all sorts of serious exercise.
‘Cindy, it turned out, was not anything like a softly-spoken southern belle’
But Cindy, it turned out, wasn’t anything like a softly-spoken southern belle, but meant that I needed to complete as many rounds of 5 Pull-ups, 10 Push-ups and 15 Squats that I had time for in 20 minutes. By five minutes in (5!) I felt I disliked Cindy intensely. Fifteen minutes in, I wanted to slap her.
Ok, I am going to tell it to you straight – it wasn’t at all easy – but it was definitely doable. And I felt great afterwards. Cindy might not be my BFF but she was a much-valued acquaintance.
I had also been worried that I would be terribly sore. But the exercise felt natural. This is the “secret” of Crossfit training – that it mimics everyday movements. Also it’s a high-intensity workout, which means that twenty minutes a day is more than enough time to do it.
“Our goal is to create an individual who is highly adaptable to everyday problems – like walking up stairs or lifting your children,” Karl told me.
And according to Karl, anyone can do Crossfit.
“Crossfit is only a fancy word for solving “everyday problems”, so in reality you are already doing it. Since it is adaptable training, I could bring in a sixty year old to compete with my twenty year old clients. The only difference is that they would exercise in a way that would be relevant for themselves, at their own level.”
Although quite young, Karl has been doing Crossfit for several years. He was always certain of what he wanted to do with his life and enrolled into PT training straight after finishing high school. He got himself a proper Crossfit Certificate and is today in charge of the Crossfit gym in Södermalm, where he also works as a personal trainer.
Having moved to Sweden from the UK when he was four and educated in Sweden, the UK and Italy, Karl wants to attract more English-speakers to the gym and hopes to be able to start up an English Facebook group for new members.
“Let’s just say I enjoy diversity. If you want training in English from someone who knows what it’s like to be in a different country from your own and don’t feel comfortable going to a big gym – you’ve found your man!”
For someone with a full-time job as well as two small children, the fact that Crossfit offers me a full-blown workout in as little as twenty minutes is a major plus. Even I am known to have twenty minutes spare. Also, it isn’t always necessary to be in the gym to do your workout.
‘As long as you can work with your body weight and have a barbell, you can do anything.’
“Crossfit doesn’t need any expensive machines or big spaces to practice. As long as you can work with your body weight and have a barbell, you can do anything. In other words, at the gym, on the beach or when you’re travelling – we will make your training work for you, wherever you are,” says Karl.
The second time I went to see Karl, I had my 7-year-old in tow after a mishap with the childminder left me in the lurch. Although of course not actively encouraged, this was not at all a problem and while I skipped rope and sweated and did burpees, my offspring was busy climbing up and down a rope in the gym for the whole duration. Happy as the proverbial Larry.
Knackered – but not beaten.
While in the gym, I also had encouragement from other members who seemed to believe I could do it, just as much as Karl did. They convinced me as well. According to Karl, there is a vibrant Crossfit community and the relationship between the trainers and the members is one of the things that make Crossfit training so special.
“When you train at a traditional global chain gym, you usually just become one out of thousands of members. We have around 200 members and everyone is an individual. We take care of your needs and help you meet your goals,” says Karl.
In July, Karl and his colleagues are planning a ten-week boot camp where members come to the gym twice a week to learn the proper techniques as well as get into shape. Otherwise it is recommended that new members, such as myself, have at least ten hours of personal training to learn how to lift and move correctly.
“This way you will learn how to program your training to achieve your goals and have someone to give you that extra push on an early Monday morning. More importantly we teach people the right mechanics,” says Karl.
But once you know what to do, it IS possible to do your exercise wherever you are and whenever you have the time. Another benefit to being a Crossfit member is that you get access to the Facebook group where daily Crossfit workouts are posted along with videos on technique and performance.
And I have to admit that there is no way I would have been able to motivate myself to the same degree as Karl does when he is telling me what to do. My own inner drill sergeant huffily retreats to the back of my mind for the duration – not needed.
As part of out new series Healthy in the City, YLC we will be giving you regular Crossfit training updates over the next few weeks, with suggested workouts and what benefits they have. YLC readers who want to try out Crossfit can also book four PT– hours with Karl (in English) at a 50% discount (value of 2,000 SEK).